Can a marriage survive a secret credit card debt this big?

When Erin Reeves received a credit card offer in the mail about four years ago, it seemed innocent enough. She and her husband, Chad, and their three kids had just moved from Florida to Texas, and without friends or family around, Erin was struggling. Buying a few things for the kids and some clothes for herself brought some relief, and while keeping it from Chad was no big deal at first, it quickly snowballed out of control.

Erin had accumulated some debt a few years earlier that they cleared up, but a new environment brought back an old habit. “Spending money was always my mechanism for dealing with whatever I was going through,” Erin says. “I was lonely and bored, and my identity was always wrapped up in what other people thought of me.” Buying nice clothes or new things for the kids or the house was a way to pass time or feel good. It was a slippery slope, and because she was running the finances and Chad had a ton going on at work, he was largely unaware of what was happening. Yet, the more the debt piled up, the harder it was for Erin to tell him. “Our marriage had always been somewhat turbulent. There wasn’t a lot of intimacy,” Erin says. “He had always struggled with anger, so I was afraid of him getting angry with what I was dealing with, and I was so closed off that he never really felt loved or respected.” The enemy had created a perfect storm in their marriage, and it was just on the horizon.

During this time, Erin and Chad started attending Gateway, and Erin got a job with the Gateway Café at the North Fort Worth Campus. They had also joined a group, which helped them develop some community for a short season, but the debt was still looming over Erin. She was attending a Bible study one night in February 2017 when she read in the study: “Remorse is being sorry for what you do, but repentance is turning away from it.” That’s when she knew it was time to come clean. 

She went home and talked to Chad. He had been asking some questions about the finances, so he was already on alert, but when he asked her for numbers, he wasn’t ready for her answer. He knew about the $20k of debt on his credit card, but he didn’t know about the $30k Erin had racked up. “He was crushed, heartbroken. The way he describes it, he felt like I had an affair, like I was cheating on him with money,” she says. “The silly things I bought weren’t worth that moment.”

Erin began to go to counseling, and she and Chad got serious about the debt. “He cut up all the credit cards and put everything on lock down, including blocking online shopping passwords,” Erin says. “There were just things we had to do so I was in a safe place.” Meanwhile, Chad went through Freedom Ministry and KAIROS and began dealing with his heart and some anger problems. “I was extremely hurt when she told me about the debt. I felt like I couldn’t provide for my family and that she was looking for something else,” Chad says. “It created a lot of bitterness and resentment in my heart. I held onto that unforgiveness for a long time.”

Slowly over many months, they worked at chipping away at the debt and reconciling their marriage. “Things weren’t awesome, and I felt like I was walking on eggshells,” Erin says, “But I was understanding who Christ made me to be and finding freedom in my identity.”

Then, last December, Chad’s father passed away and two months later, his grandmother passed away as well. For Chad, these losses reactivated a lot of unresolved anger and unforgiveness. So one day, after he blew up over $40 spent on a costume for one of their kids, he knew he hadn’t truly forgiven Erin. He started counseling and began to combat the roots of anger and hurt in his life. And their relationship started to heal. “His anger began to subside. The intimacy and trans- parency began to build,” Erin says. “I started confiding in Chad when I was struggling. To this day, if I have to go to Target for something essential, I will call and ask him to stay on the phone with me.” And then, an unexpected blessing came their way.

“I remember one morning I said to God, ‘You gotta take care of this, ‘cause I can’t do it. I just don’t know what to do,’” Chad says. “I tried to carry the burden of it all and it was way out of my control, but I began giving it to God and stepping out of the way, knowing the only way something was going to change was through Him.” Shortly after, Chad learned that in his dad’s absence, his grandmother’s inheritance was being passed down to him and his sister.

“After I came clean to Chad, I had a dream where God said that we would be debt-free in three years,” Erin says. “I really clung to that. And now, with the help of Chad’s grandmother’s inheritance, we have a little over half of the debt paid off. There’s an end in sight.”

But the biggest thing for both Chad and Erin is not watching the debt number shrink. It’s the restoration they’ve gone through personally and in their marriage. “We are already closer in our relationship and love each other more. It’s not always been that way. There was a time when I thought, Forget it, it’s not worth it,” Chad says. “But it is worth it. And God changed my heart, so I know who I am, and I can love my wife for who she is and where she’s at.”

As Chad and Erin finish out seasons of counseling and Freedom Ministry at Gateway, they plan to get into another group to build community and accountability around them. There is still work ahead—especially when it comes to showing their children they still love one another and how to view money, identity, and material things—but both say that God has truly done a miracle in their lives, launching significant heart-change.

“A lady at the Gateway Café came up to me a few months ago and handed me a $100 bill. She said she felt led that our family needed it,” Erin says. “The old me would’ve hidden it and spent it however I wanted when I was having a bad day or feeling insecure. I think a lot of people might have. But I knew God had changed me when I felt happy to go home and bless my husband with that $100. ‘Retail therapy’ is joked about in pop culture, but I know now that God has so much more for me than clothes in my closet.”

Chad, Erin, and their three kids attend the North Fort Worth Campus.